It’s weird writing recaps for movies that I’ve seen before, which seems contrary to logic, but it’s true. It’s especially tricky when fake-outs are involved. I want to keep it “honest” with writing what I’m thinking while watching these James Bond movies; but if I already know what’s going to happen, it kind of ruins the novelty of writing and reacting live to what’s going on in the film. While this won’t be an issue with a lot of these movies, since I haven’t ever watched large swaths of the franchise up until this project, there are some entries that I’ve seen quite a bit–especially if my father was a fan of them.
Case in point is today’s movie, From Russia with Love, released in 1963, at the height of the Cold War. There’s the familiar music and James shooting the audience through a barrel of a gun, and then we open on Bond sneaking around a garden at night. But he’s far clumsier than the Bond we saw in Dr. No. He’s being stalked and Bond takes a shot but misses, which should be the first clue something isn’t right here. The man stalking him takes out the ol’ strangling line, taking Bond down quickly. B-b-but this is the first scene of the movie! DID THEY JUST KILL JAMES BOND?
No, of course not: it’s just a dude in a mask, which looked exactly like Sean Connery when he was alive but looks more like Michael Myers when he’s dead. Because the mask died, too?
Ghost Mask: Coming this Fall!
But who cares about that? Here’s the title sequence(!) with a great opening orchestral score written by Lionel Bart (of Oliver! fame) and conducted by John Barry (arranger of “James Bond Theme” and composer of most of the other Bond movies’ scores), with the credits being projected on sexy dancing dames. Now this is what I didn’t pay any good money to see! You know, I’ve used the term “Male Gaze” a lot already in this project, but there is no mistaking how James Bond movies are the epitome of this concept: the opening sequence alone is just a lot of T&A and literally nothing else. Not that I’m complaining, being a male and all.
We open the film proper in Venice at a chess match (because Russians are really good at chess; it keeps us warm through the cold winter nights. Well, that and vodka). Again, the film just looks fantastic: sharp, clean, and expensive. The Most Russian-Looking Man Ever smokes a cigarette and ponders his next move when he gets a message via the bottom of his water glass that he is needed elsewhere immediately. He calmly checkmates his opponent then gets the fuck out of there because winning a major chess championship is just another Tuesday for this guy.
On the most luxurious yacht I’ve ever seen, we are introduced to the classic villain Blofeld as he watches Siamese fighting fish kill each other, describing their battle strategy as a metaphor for what SPECTRE is doing. This scene, once again, makes me hate Austin Powers, since both Blofeld and #3 are directly lifted from this movie for Dr. Evil and Frau Farbissina. But these original characters are already wildly cartoonish in this movie! So the joke in Austin Powers is….?
Russian Chess and #3 talk to Blofeld about their plan, which is an obvious trap for the British, who Chess reasons won’t turn down a challenge (UK! UK! UK!), and there’s an electric decoder in play here. They talk about how they can’t fucking wait to meet James Bond because he’s the raddest dude around and Chess says he’ll get the plan going, OK? Gosh, get off my back, dad!
CUT TO the guy that was stalking not-Bond in the cold open, and we’re treated to a rather…developed…woman taking off her clothes and giving him a massage as he relaxes outside. But then a chopper lands with #3 there to pick up this guy. His name is Donald Grant (just for reference), and he’s going to be part of this escapade. They call him a homicidal paranoaic, and this all takes place on SPECTRE Island, on which are activities that look totally bonkers and also really fun.
#3 comes across the busty masseuse and Grant, who springs up and awaits further instructions. He looks like a robot from Westworld. #3 socks him in the gut, and he doesn’t even goddamn flinch.
Now to Russia, where the people surprisingly speak Russian terribly for being native speakers, as we follow a lady in a mustard pantsuit (presumably a side-effect of trade embargoes) to her mystery date. She meets #3, and we find out this is Tatiana Romanova, a state agent. #3 (AKA Colonel Kleb AKA Frau Farbissina in Austin Powers), and #3 tells her to take off her damn jacket so the men in the audience can have a good look-see. #3 plays the part like she’s a Nazi, but since the Nazis were defeated by the time this movie was made, eenh, Russians = Nazis now. Anyway, she gives Romanova the 3rd degree and puts her hand on her knee (because lesbians=evil in 1963). She’s sent off to do spy stuff, presumably involving James Bond.
Meanwhile, James Bond is making time with a dame in a rowboat (is this Sylvia Trench from the first movie? It is! Nice continuity!), but again he has to split. He makes a phone call from his phone because he’s the coolest, but also smacks her hand rather sharply, which isn’t cool. He decides whatever, let’s get down to Fuck Town, and they do it in his car.
“Can’t talk. Fucking.”
His hat lands right on the hat rack down at the office, but no time for Moneypenny flirting because M is waiting for him. M tells him that Tatiana Romanova is looking for him to defect, and that they’re all looking for this electronic cipher machine. But of course Bond has to meet her in Istanbul to retrieve her, along with the cipher, and ONLY HIM because he’s dreamy. M and Bond realize this is probably a trap, but this is also the goddamn free world and it will always win! Until the early 2000’s, at least.
Q pops by to show off his gadgets, including a decked-out weaponized suitcase, a teargas container, and a dog with bees in its mouth so when the dog barks it shoots bees. Then Q gets the hell out of there because his place is in the lab. Moneypenny gives him a plane ticket, and they get super-close once again in the kind of flirting that would send us all to jail nowadays. He leaves the photograph of the girl, and signs it: From Russia with Love (Hey! That’s the title of this movie! But how does he know that???)
Doessier #1492: James Bond has terrible handwriting.
He flies on an extinct airline and we are now in Istanbul, where yet again a guy’s waiting with a car for him. But there’s a mustachioed guy that looks like he’s about to die also looking on! And there’s Grant! They all get in really nice-looking cars (for instance, Bond is being driven in a goddamn Rolls-Royce), and whaddaya know, they get followed by the Bulgarians, but the driver’s like, nah, this is just what we do around here: follow each other around.
He gets rushed into the embassy and Bond lights up a cigarette because they didn’t give you cancer back then. The guy, whoever, Mustachio, says fuck the plan, just hang out and go home, this shit’s all sorts of fucked. Meanwhile, Grant has a dude tied up in his back seat because bondage play was way taboo back then.
Bond checks into his hotel, and simply everyone knows his name. Isn’t he supposed to be a secret agent? His room is (unfortunately) not as swanky as any of the ones in the first movie, but he tips well because he’s a class act, and again checks around the room for bugs and spies and sexy dames. Sure enough, he finds one (a bug, not a sexy dame), and says he has to change rooms (and everyone in the lobby is in on the con like it’s The Sting around here), so he’s switched to the bridal suite. He smirks at their obvious spying methods and is probably wondering where the closest baccarat table is.
“…And this room doesn’t have a goddamn baccarat table, either! And no dames!”
Dun-dun! The guy that Grant kidnapped is found dead, and #3 is there with him in the back of another car, I guess because this is because all crazy double-secret-spy games they’re all doing on each other confuses even them. We cut to Mustachio, who has a mistress trying to get his attention, but he’s distracted by something. But sex is sex, and they start to get down, but then their place gets bombed, and they’re…dead? We’ll find out, after this!
Bond shows up at Mustachio’s house, and he’s not dead. But he and Bond are trying to figure out what exactly is going on, so they go down to the Batcave or something to talk in private. It’s an underground reservoir, and Mustachio gondolas them to another place in time and space. They’re underneath the Russian consulate, where he has a periscope(!) installed to spy on them. They watch some Russkis yell at each other but can’t hear anything. Bond asks Mustachio if Romanova shows up in this room they’re watching, and that’s a big fat yes, to give them messages, because it’s double-secret-spy stuff time still. Romanova shows up, and Bond ogles her like he does every attractive woman he ever sees. He says that Bond shouldn’t stay at the hotel, but instead chill at one of his cribs. But he’s just bringing him to some gypsies and this new locale is decidedly not as exotic or beautiful as the ones Bond is accustomed to. They probably don’t even have baccarat here.
But spies are on their tail, and there’s some crazy gypsy blood feud shit going on between them and the Bulgarians, and they have to eat family style and watch a belly dancer snapping canastas. This seems less like Istanbul than Ian Fleming having flipped through a softcore novel set there while sauced one night. Spies infiltrate the place to smash shit up, and Grant’s hanging behind a wagon looking hella bored. Anyway, gypsy shit is happening, and two girls that are in love with the same man are just going to straight-up murder each other, as is the gypsy way(?). So these girls fight, but not before hiking up their skirts because Male Gaze, and Bond is just watching this wondering how he’s going to find a good martini in this place. But before we can watch a young woman smash another young woman’s face in with a bottle, spies show up to shoot everybody.
“I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you…”
It looks like a scene out of a Western, what with horses stampeding and wild gunfire and caravans being set ablaze. Meanwhile, Grant just calmly tries to get a bead on James to, you know, kill him. Seeing bloodshed and violence, Bond throws himself into this swingin’ scene, blowing away like five or thirty guys in the process. The invaders lose pretty quickly and run away.
Mustachio and Bond look to kill the dude that attacked the gypsy camp, and Bond takes out his pocket sniper rifle to do the job. Mustachio has his sons ring the doorbell of the guy to kill the guy (way to go with phrasing), and they see a window in the mouth of a poster, and the guy they’re looking to kill climbs out of it. Mustachio pulls the trigger and that dude falls to his death. Bond’s line here? “She should have kept her mouth shut.” (You know, ‘cause of the window in the mouth of a movie advertisement that’s painted(?) on the side of a building. That must have been one hell of a movie!)
Green figs, yogurt, and coffee (very black) is what Bond orders for breakfast the next morning when he gets back to his hotel room because the British have terrible taste in food, and goes to take a shower when he hears a clatter outside his room. Fortunately, a gun is never more than five steps away from Bond. But when he goes back in, there’s Tatiana Romanova laying naked in his bed. They let each other know that they’re both down to clown, and they get to making out and flirt spy-style. The camera pans up and away, and we see through the mirror in the room that this is all being filmed because this was the only way to get footage of people doing it back then.
Deep Throat, behind the scenes.
CUT TO a tour of an incredible-looking cathedral, and Bond and Romanova are playing it cool with each other in this space, ostensibly looking for that darn McGuffin, I mean cipher, and pass notes to each other in class. But Bond sees one of those guys that’s been following him around, and Romanova plants a note for Bond and books it. Bond hides his Walter PPK with a handkerchief, which is adorable, and then Grant shows up out of nowhere and kicks the other spy in the head to death, because I guess this dude’s fucking with the secret double probation. Then Bond gets the note, barely regards the dead man, and goes back to Mustachio with it.
Mustachio admonishes James for not thinking with his brain but his spy dick, and it seems like Bond is actually falling for this Russian spy. The next time Bond and Romanova meet is on a ferry, where they continue with their spy flirting, and he keeps pressing her for the machine. But she plays the honeypot perfectly, keeping him dangling while she sets the trap.
Light, Love, Adventure: All in Istanbul, 1963! Write Sears & Roebuck for more information.
We see that everybody–M, Q, Moneypenny, Winston Churchill, simply everybody—back home in London is listening in. The men in the room love hearing what a hot sex machine Bond is, and Moneypenny is losing her mind over this, as well. Bond gets a cable that says it’s time to get the damn cipher already, you sexy sexy man, and he sets up the meet-cute to pick this fucker up.
Into the Russian embassy Bond strolls for the McGuffin, and the place gets bombed as a distraction. Ha ha, innocent people died for a distraction! Bond actually smirks when the bomb goes off, and he dashes in to retrieve the thingy. Romanova is waiting for him inside, and they both split into the catacombs where Mustachio is waiting.
They run towards Mustachio’s Magical Gondola Ride and up into his…carpet warehouse? I thought it was the Istanbul embassy. It still might be; I don’t know. Again, I must have missed who this guy is and what he’s doing in this movie, but he’s just Mustachio to me now.
Anyway, Romanova and Bond jump on a train while Russian agents chase after them. And Grant’s on the train too! Ooooo! So it’s Mustachio, Romanova, and Bond on the train in a nice private cabin as Mr. and Mrs. Somerset (and, uh, Mr. Mustachio), and the men go out in the hall for Man Talk and to smoke cigarettes. They’re planning on splitting for London in the morning, and then Bond re-enters the cabin to get it going on with each other, but not until James gives Romanova a new wardrobe because classy. The strings sound fantastic in the score. It’s a really high-end soundtrack for two people who are about to have sex out of wedlock in 1963.
“This was great! Look, I gotta go…”
Mustachio shows up for more hallway Man Talk. Apparently, more Russian spies are on the train. They beat on the Russian spy for funsies, and then Bond goes back to have more sexy times with Romanonov. At 4 PM, being a respectable Englishman, Bond demands they have tea in the dining car, giving her a firm slap on the behind to re-emphasize his point. They both really seem to be falling for each other at this point and get dressed for tea. Upon exiting their cabin, however, a porter notifies him that Mustachio is fucking dead, and James locks his Russian tart in the room as he investigates. He pays the porter off to keep it under his silly little hat and gets back to business because death means nothing to him.
But Goddammit, the train doesn’t stop where it’s supposed to for them to escape! Bond goes back to the cabin, looking super-pissed and realizing he’s been double-crossed by this blonde temptress. He shakes her and actually smacks her across the face. Yikes! On a completely unrelated note, did you know that Sean Connery totally approved of smacking women around in real-life? It’s true! And it’s horrifying. Oh, The Past. Why do you make me ashamed of liking you sometimes? Romanova says that she loves him, but I guess love’s not in the cards for James Bond–especially if he keeps treating women like that.
They end up in Belgrade, which is not where you want to end up when you’re a spy. He meets with Mustachio’s son and says he needs him to contact his people and send someone. Bond gives him some personal effects of his father’s, and then gets back on the train.
The choo-choo keeps rolling across a map, where it whistles into Zagreb, another place you definitely don’t want to be a British spy in, and Grant departs from the train. Bond pokes his head through the window, looking for Mustachio’s son, and Grant fucking suckers that guy with the code words. Then he goddamn ices him but quick. Grant also suckers Bond with the same code phrase (not a great code if everyone can figure it out, guy), and Grant speaks with a pretty good English accent as he pretends to be part of Bond’s secret service organization.
Sure enough, she’s all sorts of messed up and passes out. The men go into the adjoining cabin for Man Talk, and Bond pulls a gun on him because duh. Grant says that the escape plan’s only for one, and Grant gives him his plan but also pulls a gun from his sock and knocks James the fuck out. After feeling him up for a bit, he takes Bond’s passport and cash. Once he wakes up, Bond is shown to be the chump, since he actually mentions that he should have known that this guy wasn’t the real deal when he ordered red wine with fish (gold star for me! ::Places gold star on own nose::).
Bond realizes it’s SPECTRE, and that they’ve been playing all of these spies against each other. Grant gloats and gets his silencer ready to kill him, and Bond’s gears are really grinding about this dilly of a pickle. Grant gives him the whole plot, as most Bond villains do, and Bond realizes that Romanova was only trying to be a spy for Russia, not as some SPECTRE heel.
So it’s all just blackmail and threats at this point, like most of life is, while Grant gives the whole thing away. Bond calls him a goddamn lunatic and gets a smack across the chops for the favor. Doesn’t feel so good, does it, Bond? So he offers Grant a boatload of cash to come onto his side, but that doesn’t work. So instead he asks for a last cigarette, for which he gives Grant 50 gold sovereigns from his spy case. But Grant, not trusting Bond, opens the case himself, but the wrong way (Thanks, Q! Says Bond never.) and gets a face full of poison gas for his idiocy. They fight and fight and fight and fight and fight (fight fight fight, fight fight fight! The Itchy and Scratchy Show!)
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
More of this Dr. No-esque hand-to-hand combat goes on for a while, but of course Bond wins in the end because this movie franchise is named after James Bond, not Grant Fuck. Bond gets his shit back from Grant’s dead body and locks the door behind him in case he becomes a zombie, I guess. He goes to get Romanova up, who’s still wacked out, because it’s time they blow this scene. They get off the train and Romanova takes a snooze in a ditch while Bond goes to kill Grant’s contact. Which he does, because he’s James Frickin’ Bond.
He keeps jostling Romanova awake to get her the fuck going, but she’s taking a snooze in the back of the pickup truck while he drives like a madman. But a helicopter has spotted him—the same one #3 arrived in earlier—and they buzz and throw grenades at the truck. Bond’s trying to goddamn book it, but too many grenades are dropped, so Bond gets out and hoofs it on foot. This sequence really smacks of North By Northwest, a major influence in the development of the spy genre, and he Cary Grants his body around like a rag doll (isn’t it a pity?) to avoid their fire. Fortunately, his pocket sniper rifle is there to fire back. The dude he shoots drops a live grenade into the cabin of the helicopter, and it crashes and ‘splodes real good.
If every scene of the movie was like this one, it’d be the #1 movie forever.
Bond runs back to the truck, where Romanova has woken up (and so has the Russian spy, who does nothing), and they get to a boat on a dock to split. Bond gets the key from the shittiest SPECTRE operative ever and throws him in the boat to avoid any more interference from these goddamn people. But no, he decides to just fucking tosses him off the side into the water, and Bond and Romanova sail to Venice.
And they’re almost there! But goddamn SPECTRE boats vroom towards their demise. James says enough of this shit and releases barrels of gasoline that are on the boat, firing at them with the flare gun and making a Universal Studios Water Stuntacular occur. All of SPECTRE’s boats ignite in glorious hellfire and James and Romanova sail off to a happy ending.
In Venice, they’re kicking it in a palatial abode. A chambermaid comes in, but it’s #3 looking to steal that cipher thingy and goddammit, Austin Powers, you ripped off this ending, too? Again: If it’s just the same thing without any changes, it’s not a joke, it’s just lazy. So #3 comes in pretending to clean the place but can’t get this goddamn McCipher out of the room. Romanova recognizes #3, who tells her to shush about it, and pulls a gun on him. James is like, goddammit, and Romanova is having a hard time letting her allegiance go and gets the door for her. #3 closes the door behind Romanova to kill Bond, but nope! Romanova smashes her in the face with the cipher itself. Metaphor?
I wish we could do this to all of our bosses.
#3 gets her shoe knife out and starts a-kickin’, but Romanova just shoots her dead, proving(?) her loyalty to James. So the score sweeps up in strings, as “From Russia with Love” starts playing and these two coo-coo lovebirds take a gondola ride and smooch a bit. But they’re being filmed, which reminds James that he has their sex tape on him, don’tcha know. He checks out a few frames, likes what he sees, then goes back to a-kissing as he throws the film into the canal, which I’m sure is a felony today. We also get to know that James Bond will return in Goldfinger. And so will I! But not now; that’s enough of this shit for one day.
- The score really is fantastic in this film. Only the second film in the franchise and they’re killing it in the music department. This was John Barry’s first time arranging the score for a James Bond film, and he would continue the job up until Tomorrow Never Dies. His replacements for the movies would continue to use cues that he created for the Bond films, and in general James Bond movie scores still follow the template he created for the series.
- No gambling or heavy drinking in this film from James Bond; just business.
- For all the time they spent establishing the whole “gypsy” angle, nothing really comes of it. I guess they just really wanted a catfight somewhere in this movie. Also, it’s implied that James Bond is such a hot, sexy dude that both women—who just the day before were ready to kill each other with their bare hands—got such sweet lovin’ from him that they put aside their differences to utterly serve him. I didn’t cover it in the recap because I (rightly) suspected that this wasn’t going to have any larger impact on the rest of the plot. And hey, I was right! Another gold star for me.
A little background into my own family’s history: My father’s side were Russian immigrants that came to America in the early 1950’s. And even if they had fled from Communist U.S.S.R., Russians were viewed with suspicion in the USA during the Cold War. While my grandparents never truly adapted to the culture (they only spoke halting English, much of the culture confounded them, and while my grandfather was trained as an electrical engineer in the Russia, the best job he could get here was working in a coffee packaging factory), they emphasized that their children adapt to the culture as much as possible.
And so they did: my father, who arrived here when he was 5, absorbed American culture, attitudes, lifestyle, and especially the ideals of capitalism. As I’ve written about before, America in the latter half of the 20th century was seemingly paradise: Capitalism was working, Democracy was the gold standard, and we were the light of the world trying to banish the scourge of Communism to the shadows. And my father became All-American, working hard to attain a degree in electrical engineering that eventually led to a career in government, where he developed radar technology. It was at this time that he became James Bond himself for a while, working on top-secret technologies that would eventually transform the world as we know it, making scads of cash, adventuring around the world, and in general living The American Dream.
But he was also viewed with suspicion by his own government because of his Russian heritage. It didn’t help that he spoke Russian himself and his parents had ties to the Russian community. While he obtained the security clearances he needed for his work, both he and his family were subject to extensive background checks, even to the point where when I was a young child in the 1980’s, agents would snoop around my parents’ property just to make sure they weren’t a sleeper cell for the Rus. They weren’t, of course, but it was this sort of paranoia that fueled the Cold War. But even today, I ask if he ever resented the way his own government didn’t fully trust him despite the stellar work he produced for them; and he says no, of course not: we were fighting the Communists at the time, and they would (and will) destroy America. Then he goes on a rant about the rise of socialism in this country for a while, and I usually back out of the room slowly.
This is all to say that out of the James Bond franchise, From Russia with Love was one of my father’s favorites, and due to this, it’s one of the Bond films that I’ve seen often throughout my life, although only in glimpses and pieces, because James Bond movies didn’t really interest me until I was about 30. I even remember watching it as a little boy with my father and grandfather, two foreign-born men of Russian ethnicity. Why did they like it, though? Because the movie was centered around Russians? Because a Russian defector (like my grandfather) was one of the heroes? Because the no-good Commies got theirs in the end, along with the rest of the fascist shitheads trying to take over the Free World that had offered them sweet salvation? I couldn’t tell you. Those answers are lost somewhere in the past, and I’m unable to retrieve them at this point. Stupid time!
I can tell you why I liked it, however: it’s a nifty spy movie set during the Cold War and is lively and interesting and keeps my modern short attention span throughout. As with the first movie, and a lot of Bond movies, the appeal is clear: it’s wonderful escapist fantasy. It’s not trying to say something deep or important but something enjoyable and even admirable (Hero Outsmarts Dirty Commies, and Even Worse SPECTRE; Wins Everything). Like Dr. No, I’m impressed with how well-developed all of this is so early in the franchise.I guess having a series of full-length novels as the basis helps.
Unlike some of the later films, where Bond is Quippy McQuipperson, he chooses his quip moments selectively, only dropping a few sweet bon mots along the way. Maybe not as coherent as Dr. No, but even better in other areas, such as the intricate double-cross spy plotting. Most enjoyable is seeing an intelligent female protagonist that matches wits with Bond throughout, and even sincerely captures his heart. I’m not a fan of the rougher parts of James Bond in regards to his treatment of women or general disregard of human life but always enjoy it when he shows some vulnerability. Three and a half out of four Bonds.